Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rock Creek River Gorge 10.2 Mile Trail Race

I typically reserve my blog race recaps for Marathons only but today's race deserves a wrap up.

One of the great things about living in Chattanooga is that there are literally hundreds of places here to run. There are over 50 Trail Heads within just a few miles of downtown Chattanooga. Another great thing about living here is that there are tons of different events in which a runner can participate. Rock Creek, an outdoor store here in the area, hosts a yearly trail series and this race was one of those events. I have run three previous events in the series and they have all been great. They are organized well, provide great schwag, and they all offer challenging but fun courses to run. The River Gorge 10.2 Mile Trail Race this morning was no different. It was by far the most difficult of the ones that I have run but probably the best scenery I've ever seen while running.

The race started on time which is atypical for most smaller events that I have run but very typical of Rock Creek Events. The course started on an uphill road which turned into a trail about a mile in. As I moved through the course, my legs felt good and I felt fresh despite running a full marathon last weekend. A hilly one at that.

As is the case with most road races, nearly all of the runners are courteous and helpful on the trails. It has to be that way on trails because of some of the techinical things that you have to do and the trail is often times single track. I did notice today that many runners were wearing headsets which kind of caught me off guard. Two things that I observed when noticing this today: one was that they were missing a ton of great nature sounds as they ran and the second being that it can be very difficult to pass someone courteously when they cannot hear you asking to pass.

At the first aid station at about mile 4 I still felt good but the trail was beginning to takes it's toll on my body. Each trail race that I have done I have noticed that they typically keep your heart rate at a much higher level than even a hilly road race. Often times, walking is necessary to get back down out of Zone 4. I had to walk several times today to accomplish just that. One cool thing for me today was that I didn't fall once! A first for me on a trail. I nearly fell several times but avoided it once by slamming into a tree, ouch. Another time that it is almost inevitable for me to walk in a trail race is on inclines, especially switchbacks. This course offered very few times where you could gain time back on your pace. There were a couple of areas where you could but they didn't last long and they came right after an incline so steep it took a few minutes to get your heart rate down to an acceptable level.

At about mile 7 you began an incline that led you to the aid station at about the halfway point of the climb. This hill was intimidating. You can see the aid station and people are cheering you to the top but you just couldn't seem to make yourself move any faster. The really bad part of it was that just after you got an orange and a banana, the incline became more steep and moved into a switchback. For some reason I hate those things. You're looking up and thinking "those people are just right there but I have so far to get there".

It's important to point out at this point that the volunteers at the Rock Creek Races are amazing. They are always cheering you on and greeting you with a smile. These folks probably would rather be running the race but are spending their time helping folks like me finish. It's also really cool to see the kids out helping. They will have a lasting impression on their minds that they will never forget. Runners being trained well!

At about mile 8.5 I reached the Rock Garden which my buddy Tim had warned me about. I need to point out here that my buddy Tim, aka @abueloruns, couldn't run this one because he has a broken collar bone from a fall while running. Weird not having Tim around so I can chase that backwards hat that I always have to see! The Rock Garden was an area so technical that I really do not know how the top trail runners actually run through it. The main thing that is different about trail running for me is the mental aspect of it. You have to constantly watch the trail a few feet in front of you or you will bust your rear almost immediately. My ankles and legs are so sore after a trail raise because they spent the entire race trying to stabilize so you don't turn an ankle. Each step in the Rock Garden was slow and precise. Moss was all over many of the rocks so even when you picked a good spot to land on, your foot would still slip. This area of the course slowed to a crawl for me. If not for this area I could have come in under 2 hours but hey, it didn't happen that way.

At about 9 miles I moved out of the Rock Garden and started the final climb to the finish. The last mile was a gradual incline that led to the finish line. The one positive of that last mile is that I could hear the announcer announcing finishers and it kept me focused on finishing strong. I finished a tough race, in one piece I might add, in 2:09:56. To kind of let you know how difficult this course was, that time is almost a full twenty minutes more than my half marathon personal best time. I am proud of that time though. I finished!

I encourage any one out there to start trying to do some trail runs, especially Rock Creek events. Trails remind me that I am not in as good of shape as I thought I was. I'm in realy good condition right now and I worked hard in this race. It pushed me to my limits. I ran a hilly Georgia Marathon last weekend and I promise you that I didn't get as tired as I did today one time in it. This trail also helped me tremendously, There is nothing the Go! St Louis Marathon can throw at me that I didn't battle today.

Thanks Rock Creek for putting on these events, the volunteers that make it happen, and Tim for turning me on to trail running. I am a better runner because I run trails!

If you are interested in running the Rock Creek events visit them at and click on Trail Series.

1 comment:

  1. Great performance, Mike! Sounds like you had a really good time out there!